March 14, 2014
Over the last year I have spent a fair amount of time with Coach Anthony Grant. I have watched our team practice. I have watched them play. We have had several philosophical discussions. In every meeting we have had, I came away impressed with his character, with his knowledge and belief in his approach to the game, with his commitment to win championships at Alabama, and with his ability to recruit and develop players, both on and off the court.
At this level of collegiate athletics there is a very fine line that separates winning and losing. The 2013-14 men's basketball season has been a disappointing one. Many factors shape a season. We made some strategic decisions going into the year, both with scheduling and with players, that didn't work out like we planned.
Our mission is to recruit and develop student athletes to compete at the highest levels in their sport; to educate and prepare those student athletes to compete at the highest levels in life after graduation; and to do both with honor and integrity. Our men's basketball program is doing all of those things, but this season that did not translate into the level of success we all desire on the court.
According to the latest ESPN.com RPI rankings (as of March 11), Alabama's 2013-14 schedule ranks second on the list of the nation's difficult overall schedules. Sometimes a tough non-conference schedule toughens you up and prepares you for conference play; other times it shakes your confidence. Some years it seems you win most of the close games. Other years you can't find a way to get over the hump. After three 20+ win seasons, this year we found ourselves in the latter category.
College basketball is in an interesting place in 2014. The power of the NCAA Tournament appears to have diminished interest in the regular season. The "one and done" rule has had a greater impact on the game than just those players that come and go after one year. The mindset of many players (and their parents and friends) is, "I'll go pro after a year!" When that doesn't happen, the mindset is often, "It can't be my fault. It must be the system." As a result there were some 500 players that transferred last year. These factors make recruiting and coaching college basketball players even more challenging, as it is difficult to build the senior-laden teams that were more prevalent in times past.
Without solid leadership, this year's team could have folded at several points in the season. Coach Grant and his staff stayed the course and did not panic when things were going bad. The team continued to play with effort and competed hard, even after many of the preseason goals were out of reach. I am very proud of our strong finish, with our younger players stepping up their game. I am impressed with the development of our freshmen, Jimmie Taylor and Shannon Hale, encouraged about the leadership potential of our returning veterans, and looking forward to seeing a highly-rated group of signees join our team.
Off the court, Coach Grant's teams have been very successful in the classroom, consistently averaging high NCAA Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores. Alabama leads all SEC men's basketball programs in APR percentage and its APR ranks in the top 10 percent of all Division I men's programs. We led all SEC men's basketball programs in 2013 with six players named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll. In addition, every senior that has played for Coach Grant at Alabama has earned his degree.
When considering the overall health and direction of a program, all of the aforementioned factors need to be considered. Simply put, this is a program that is not adrift, and is not devoid of leadership and talent. I believe this is a program that has better days ahead.
The expectations of competing for championships and a high postseason finish remain. There is much that is right about our men's basketball program at this time. Coach Grant has earned the chance to continue building this program into the winner that we all know it should be. He's done it before. He can do it again.
We need your support in making that happen. I encourage you to rally around our team next season, to become a part of our success, and to help our team reach its potential.